Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 2010

25-lb and 30-lb kettlebells just arrived

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That didn’t take long because the (free) shipping is via USPS Priority Mail. The two kettlebells arrived in two medium flat-rate Priority Mail boxes. Postage was $11.45 each. Very fast delivery.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

Montel Williams: "I’ll use pot until the day I die"

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Montel Williams uses marijuana to combat the effects of multiple sclerosis. Hear what he says.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 11:53 am

Mainstream media and reporting on torture

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Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post on this:

This blog, along with others, compiled some anecdotes and research to show how the New York Times had always called "waterboarding" torture – until the Bush-Cheney administration came along. Instead of challenging this government lie, the NYT simply echoed it, with Bill Keller taking instructions from John Yoo on a key, legally salient etymology. Now, we have the first truly comprehensive study of how Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:

Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).

By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.

In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.

So the NYT went from calling waterboarding torture 81.5 percent of the time to calling it such 1.4 percent of the time. Had the technique changed? No. Only the government implementing torture and committing war crimes changed. If the US does it, it’s not torture.

The editors who insisted on these changes remain liars and cowards and a disgrace to journalism and a free society. They should quit for this kind of open deception and craven cowardice in putting power before truth. They remind you that if you really want to understand what is going on in the world, the New York Times will only publish what the government deems is fit to print – even in its choice of words.

DO NOT MISS reading the study.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 11:47 am

Searing Steaks: Two Paths to Nutty Brown Nirvana

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Wonderful article, via Steve of Kafeneio.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 11:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Amazing exchange

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Greenwald quite carefully and factually addresses some of Jeffrey Goldberg’s faulty arguments (in this post), and then Joe Klein goes crazy and responds in a way to does him considerable discredit (here’s the post, and be sure to read the comments: Klein’s readers seem to be considerably smarter than he is), thus providing an excellent example of why the mainstream media is so rightly distrusted: they can’t seem to grasp quite simple arguments, and they get hysterical when someone not in the Village does good reportage (e.g., Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. McChrystal). In that hysteria, they reveal that they see their job primarily as publicists working on behalf of the rich and powerful.

John Cole also has a good post on the exchange.

Some readers don’t much like Greenwald, but I’m having a hard time understanding the specific reasons for the dislike. I get things like "he’s narcissistic" (with no evidence appended). I can’t do much with that, but in my reading Greenwald is quite careful in his arguments and strong in his defense of civil rights and the US Constitution.

And, in summary, Greenwald has an excellent column that demonstrates with examples of how subservient to the government the media have become.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Homeopathy

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An excellent review of the tenets of homeopathy. Highly recommended. It begins (click to enlarge):

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Science

Fitness progress

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So far I have lost a total of 7 lbs, not very much considering I’ve been on the program for more than 3 weeks. I talked to my diet counselor today, and she suggested that I drop the evening snack since I go to bed early (around 9:00) after eating around 6:00. That should help. And once I get into the aerobic exercises (e.g., the kettlebell swing, vigorous walking), it should go even better.

Last night I had some pseudo-meat on a stick: “BBQ Cubes On A Stick”. There were 4 sticks in the package, each with 4 cubes of whatever it was, with 2 sticks being a serving. I automatically took out two sticks for dinner, wrapped up the other two and put them in the fridge for tomorrow. As I was eating, I got to thinking about this behavior (I’m still watching me like a hawk). Normally I would have looked at the package, asked myself, “Can I eat that much comfortably?”, and answered, “Yes” and so would have eaten both servings, feeling as though it was really one serving.

I realized that I had been looking upon a “serving” as “an amount of that food that I can eat comfortably,” which is how I got to eating 3 thick-cut lamb chops for dinner: each having a net weight (sans bone) of 6 ounces, so the three were 18 ounces: 4.5 times one actual serving, which is the amount I should eat for a meal.

In fact, one can comfortably eat quite a large meal in terms of one’s actual needs (assuming you’re as sedentary as I). Indeed, that’s probably a contribution from evolution: our hunter-gatherer ancestors doubtless had many days of short rations, so when they actually had a surplus, it would have been very bad if they could not comfortably eat any more than the minimum to which they had grown accustomed. It’s good (in a sense) that we can quite comfortably eat much more food than we actually need to get through to the next meal—in those days, hundreds of thousands of years before the all-you-can-eat buffet.

But now I’m regaining the modern idea of “one serving”: the amount of whatever that I should eat.

Another thought I had is that these days I eat a well-balanced diet like clockwork: 10-12 oz of protein, 4 servings of starch, 6 servings of veggies (steamed and/or as a salad), 3 servings of fruit. I had thought about this earlier this year, but it just seemed too difficult. Now it’s a snap. I thought about why:

a. I have a definite, specific program to follow.

b. I keep track of what I eat in a food journal.

c. The fee is highly motivating: I paid for this counseling, and if I don’t lose weight, I’ll feel like a chump. So I’m being quite careful to avoid being a chump.

d. I meet with the diet counselor three times a week.

As a result: it’s easy to stick with a healthful diet..

I’m very pleased to cut out that last snack, which included a starch. The 4th starch was always a problem.

UPDATE: Thus, as is obvious, a “serving” came to mean “as much of that particular dish as I want to eat.” Totally driven by appetite: gluttony (a mortal sin). How it happens: I’m still looking for my copy of Wolinsky’s Trances People Live, and I think that will prove illuminating (as, indeed, Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception already is).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 10:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food

One more reason to avoid farmed salmon

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Barry Estabrook:

Prince Edward Island bills itself as a bucolic haven of pristine beaches, white clapboard farmhouses, and quaint fishing villages. But the province is also home to one of the scariest places I’ve ever visited. There, in 2002, I toured a small warehouse-like building housing a dozen aquariums containing salmon that were genetically modified to grow twice as fast as normal salmon.

In one tank, a biologist showed me fish that were about the size of hot dogs. In an adjacent tank, salmon easily the size of my forearm paddled in listless circles. The fish in the two tanks were exactly the same age and had been fed identical diets. The giants, however, carried a gene that from a cold-water dwelling ocean pout that continuously enabled them to produce a growth hormone. Normal salmon stop excreting growth hormones when water temperatures cool.

So far, the Frankenfish have been confined to the laboratory. But that may change. Last week, AquaBounty Technologies, the company that bioengineered the salmon, told the New York Times that it had completed most of the steps required for Food and Drug Administration approval. “Perhaps in the next few months, we expect to see a final approval,” Ronald Stotish, the company’s president said to the Times.

Stotish told the newspaper that his “AquAdvantage” fish were “identical in every measureable way” (no pun intended, one assumes) to traditional farmed Atlantic salmon and therefore having to label them as genetically modified would be “misleading.”

Shortly after visiting the P.E. I. laboratory, I began steering clear of farmed salmon. AquAdvantage’s pending approval is yet another reason I’m glad I did.

Acid Rain Redux

Remember acid rain? The stuff that was killing our lakes and denuding our mountain tops? The stuff that was supposed to be a thing of the past, thanks to reduced sulfur dioxide emissions? Well, acid rain is back and worse than ever, only this time the culprit isn’t coal-fired power plants, it’s farms.

Writing on Grist, markbittman.com contributor Tom Laskawy, in his usual clearheaded way, explains that industrial has given us an acidic “double-whammy.” Chemical fertilizers spread on fields produce ammonia vapor. Feedlots full of tens of thousands of animals fed crops grown on those fields also emit ammonia. All that ammonia produces nitric acid, which returns to the earth as poisonous rain, that as as Laskway points out is even worse for the environment that the sulfuric acid emissions of yore. His article makes for a chilling must read on a drizzly summer’s day.

Land of Milk and Money

During the recession, the market for organic milk tanked, along with the rest of the economy. In an unprecedented move, Organic Valley, the country’s largest organic dairy, told the 1,600 farmers that supply it with milk to cut their production by 7 percent. It enabled the company to keep paying the same rate for the milk it purchased, which is about twice what conventional milk sells for.

Last week, Organic Valley announced that farmers could go back to 100 percent production beginning Aug. 1 in light of improved market conditions. “Raising the quota is a great accomplishment for our farmer-owned cooperative, and a testament to our democratic process, said company “C-I-E-I-O,” George Siemon, in a press release. “One year ago, we committed to create a sustainable solution through a supply management program to avoid farmer pay cuts.”

Interestingly, Siemon’s announcement came about the same time that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was meeting in Wisconsin, Organic Valley’s home state, with 500 dairy farmers, industry representatives, and politics from across the country to hear grievances about the on-going dairy crises. At that meetings, there were pleas to change the milk-pricing formula and calls to prosecute big dairy firms for antitrust violations. But I didn’t read any mention of an approach that worked in at least one proven case: supply management.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 10:06 am

A really terrific crutch

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We had some conversation on crutches, which opened my eyes to how invaluable a crutch is and how we should regard a crutch highly, rather than condemning it by reflex, as people do. Here’s a wonderful crutch (in the literal sense):

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Read the review at Cool Tools.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 10:00 am

"Please remove your shoes"

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Ed O’Keefe in the Washington Post:

Many disgruntled workers file grievances with their union or write a letter to the editor, but a half dozen federal employees have turned to the big screen to raise concerns with the nation’s airport security.

"Please Remove Your Shoes" [see trailer or the entire movie at the link – LG] uses the experiences of current and former employees of the Federal Air Marshals, Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration to argue that FAA officials frequently turned a blind eye to significant security threats in the years before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The workers argue that lawmakers later compounded existing problems by reflexively establishing TSA.

"We took the same organizational template and same counterterrorist template verbatim and reapplied it under a new label and new people and threw some more money at it," said Fred Gevalt, the film’s producer and a long time aviation industry observer. "But there are still some fundamental errors."

Gevalt and his team spent almost two years and “six figures” exploring the topic. The film debuts Wednesday evening at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, less than a week after the Senate confirmed FBI Deputy Director John Pistole as TSA administrator.

Brian Sullivan, a retired FAA special agent who narrates the film, said Pistole’s experience with intelligence and counterterrorism will lend well to his new role. And the documentary, though slanted, could help balance his early perceptions of TSA.

"He’s going to come on board and TSA management will give him in briefings, but their presentations will be equally slanted in terms of putting the best foot forward," Sullivan said.

The FAA declined to comment, and TSA declined Gevalt’s invitation to participate in the documentary.

"TSA is a young agency and many of the allegations raised in the film are past issues that have been long since addressed," said agency spokesman Greg Soule. "TSA has significantly improved aviation security following the tragic events of 9-11."

The film’s central focus in airport security, but it also chronicles the struggles commonly faced by federal whistleblowers, including threats, demotions and reassignments to the graveyard shift for speaking out.

"Raising issues and challenging management’s position on security issues, it sidetracks your career," said Sullivan, who spent years alerting FAA officials and lawmakers of potential threats. He’s irked by suggestions that the film is a televised airing of his grievances.

“When I saw the two planes flying into the World Trade Center, I knew what it was instantly," Sullivan said. "I cried, I felt like throwing up. I criticized myself, I said, ‘What the hell is the matter with me? Am I so inarticulate? Do I not know how to write or speak? Why couldn’t I have prevented this? I’ve gotten over that, I know I did what I could."

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 9:34 am

Charles Leadbeater: Education innovation in the slums

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Video

Clay Shirky on using the cognitive surplus

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The software he discusses is being used in this Oil Spill Crisis Map, a specific implementation of Ushahidi.com.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 9:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Medical marijuana user sues over Wal-Mart firing

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As has been pointed out many times, marijuana use can be detect in blood tests for as much as 30 days after use, long after the effects of the drug have worn off. The result is that a weekend marijuana user will fail drug tests the following week—but if he instead uses cocaine or crack cocaine or crystal meth or any of several other hard drugs, then the Monday after heavy usage on Friday night and Saturday, he will test clean. Drug testing, in other words, drives recreational users from marijuana to hard drugs, simply so they can avoid being detected on a workplace test.

That’s not good, even for recreational users: the hard drugs are dangerous, whereas marijuana is not. But medical marijuana users don’t have the option of moving to hard drugs: if marijuana helps them, then they will have to use marijuana, which is legal for medical use now in 14 states.

But Wal-Mart didn’t get the word. David Rune for Associated Press:

A man who uses medical marijuana to treat symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday he was wrongfully fired from a Walmart store in Michigan after testing positive for the drug.

Joseph Casias was fired last year after five years on the job in Battle Creek despite being legally registered with the state to use the drug, according to the lawsuit against the world’s largest retailer in state court.

Casias, 30, said he didn’t use marijuana at work or come to work under the influence. Scott Michelman, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the lawsuit aims to test the extent that Michigan’s law protects employees.

"No patient should be forced to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, and no employer should be allowed to intrude upon private medical choices made by employees in consultation with their doctors," Michelman said.

Michigan voters approved medical marijuana use in 2008. Federal law still prohibits the sale and cultivation of the drug.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said in a statement that it is an "unfortunate situation all around." It said it is sympathetic to Casias’ condition but said it is an issue of customer and employee safety.

"The doctor prescribed treatment was not the relevant issue. The issue is about the ability of our associates to do their jobs safely," the company said. "As more states allow this treatment, employers are left without any guidelines except the federal standard."

Casias’ drug test was given after he injured his knee at work in November, but the positive result on the urine test only indicated drug use in recent days or weeks, according to the lawsuit in Calhoun County Circuit Court. Casias said the injury had nothing to do with marijuana use; he simply stepped the wrong way…

Continue reading. Note the enormous leap in logic: "The issue is about the ability of our associates to do their jobs safely." But the drug test doesn’t decide that. The drug test only detects that marijuana has been used sometime in the past month or so—a fact that the person using medical marijuana would certainly accept. But that is irrelevant to doing the job safely or not. If he doesn’t come to work stoned, he can do the job as safely as anyone. (And, in fact, many people who never use drugs at all still manage to have accidents on the job: the drug test certainly doesn’t guarantee the ability of an employee to do the job safely, otherwise simply testing for drugs would eliminate all accidents—and it doesn’t. It doesn’t even prevent bone-headed management decisions like this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 9:21 am

The War on Drugs: Banks Financing Mexico Gangs

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Maybe we can all admit now that the War on Drugs has been a complete and utter disaster, a failure of amazing magnitude (and expense). Commenter Dale points out this story by Michael Smith in Bloomberg:

Just before sunset on April 10, 2006, a DC-9 jet landed at the international airport in the port city of Ciudad del Carmen, 500 miles east of Mexico City. As soldiers on the ground approached the plane, the crew tried to shoo them away, saying there was a dangerous oil leak. So the troops grew suspicious and searched the jet.

They found 128 black suitcases, packed with 5.7 tons of cocaine, valued at $100 million. The stash was supposed to have been delivered from Caracas to drug traffickers in Toluca, near Mexico City, Mexican prosecutors later found. Law enforcement officials also discovered something else.

The smugglers had bought the DC-9 with laundered funds they transferred through two of the biggest banks in the U.S.: Wachovia Corp. and Bank of America Corp., Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its August 2010 issue.

This was no isolated incident. Wachovia, it turns out, had made a habit of helping move money for Mexican drug smugglers. Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Wachovia in 2008, has admitted in court that its unit failed to monitor and report suspected money laundering by narcotics traffickers — including the cash used to buy four planes that shipped a total of 22 tons of cocaine.

The admission came in an agreement that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Wachovia struck with federal prosecutors in March, and it sheds light on the largely undocumented role of U.S. banks in contributing to the violent drug trade that has convulsed Mexico for the past four years.

Wachovia admitted it didn’t do enough to spot illicit funds in handling $378.4 billion for Mexican-currency-exchange houses from 2004 to 2007. That’s the largest violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, in U.S. history — a sum equal to one-third of Mexico’s current gross domestic product.

“Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations,” says Jeffrey Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case.

Since 2006, more than 22,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles that have raged mostly along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border that Mexico shares with the U.S. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, 700 people had been murdered this year as of mid- June. Six Juarez police officers were slaughtered by automatic weapons fire in a midday ambush in April.

Rondolfo Torre, the leading candidate for governor in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, was gunned down yesterday, less than a week before elections in which violence related to drug trafficking was a central issue.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to crush the drug cartels when he took office in December 2006, and he’s since deployed 45,000 troops to fight the cartels. They’ve had little success.

Among the dead are police, soldiers, journalists and ordinary citizens. The U.S. has pledged Mexico $1.1 billion in the past two years to aid in the fight against narcotics cartels…

Continue reading. It seems obvious that we are taking the wrong approach.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 8:44 am

GFT

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I got a very fine lather from Geo. F. Trumper’s GFT shaving cream, using the Edwin Jagger synthetic-bristle brush. The Mühle porcelain-handled razor with a Swedish Gillette blade did three smooth passes, and then a liberal splash of Musgo Real finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2010 at 8:34 am

Posted in Shaving

Once again, thank God for the ACLU

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And again I shake my head that the GOP doesn’t support the ACLU and its mission—until I recall that the GOP hates the "other": any marginalized (or marginizable) group other than white males and those, being most powerless, are most often victimized, and so represent a good proportion of ACLU clientele. At any rate, Peter Finn in the Washington Post:

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue the U.S. government Wednesday on behalf of 10 citizens or legal permanent residents who have been placed on a no-fly list and, in some cases, stranded abroad.

The suit, in which the ACLU accuses the government of violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, is the group’s first legal challenge of the no-fly list.

The number of names placed on the list has increased significantly since the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day, U.S. officials said. Some Americans have been barred from flying home from overseas because their names were listed.

The ACLU says Americans are being deprived of their rights as citizens and of due process.

"It really is abominable that they would treat U.S. citizens this way," said Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer at the ACLU’s National Security Project. "There is simply no legal basis for placing a U.S. citizen into involuntary exile. And to use a secret government list without any process to accomplish that goal is so un-American and so unconstitutional."

The suit, a draft copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, names as defendants Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Timothy J. Healy, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center. In it, the ACLU argues that there is little that people can do if they think their names were erroneously added to the no-fly list. They can appeal to the Department of Homeland Security, but the government will not confirm who is on the list or that any names have been removed from or kept on it.

"The government does not provide the individual with any opportunity to confront, or to rebut, the grounds for his possible inclusion on the watch list," according to the suit, which will be filed in Oregon. "Thus, the only ‘process’ available to individuals is to submit their names and other identifying information to the Department of Homeland Security and hope that an unknown government agency corrects an error or changes its mind."

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the suit, noting that the agency had not seen it. He referred to a previous statement on the no-fly list that said that the "FBI is always careful to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans."

Before December, the number of people whose names on the no-fly list — and who are thus barred from boarding a U.S. carrier, a U.S.-bound flight or entering U.S. airspace — was approximately 4,000, U.S. officials said. It is unclear how many U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are on the list now.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 5:55 pm

The US would be a much better nation without the GOP

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Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress:

Today, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) brought her bill — the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act — to the Senate floor seeking unanimous consent. Murray said the bill would “expand assistance for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children and would increase funding and extend federal grant programs to address the unique challenges faced by these veterans.” However, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected on behalf of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to this seemingly non-controversial issue:

McCONNELL: Madam president, reserving the right to object and I will have to object on behalf of my colleague Sen. Coburn from Oklahoma. He has concerns about this legislation, particularly as he indicates in a letter that I’ll ask the Senate to appear on the record that it be paid for up front so that the promises that makes the Veterans are in fact kept. So madam president I object.

Watch it:

This is pretty low, even for Republicans,” the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen said. While Murray pledged to continue to fight for the bill’s passage, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesperson said “Republicans have their priorities backwards — according to them, it’s OK to give tax breaks to CEOs who send American jobs overseas, but not to help out-of-work Americans and homeless veteran.”

How does the GOP hold its reputation for supporting the troops with actions like this?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 3:23 pm

Chicken legs roasted with mustard

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This recipe sounds tasty and easy. Ingredients:

4 chicken legs (thighs included, about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 teaspoons fresh, minced herbs, such as a mixture of sage, thyme and tarragon or marjoram
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard or tarragon mustard
1/3 cup panko
2 tablespoons melted butter

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 10:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Surveillance and power

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From The Economist:

WHILE we’re talking about Journolist and the "culture of exposure", philosophy professor Emrys Westacott has an essay out in Philosophy Now (via Andrew Sullivan) addressing the effects of surveillance on morality. From a Kantian perspective, Mr Westacott worries, increased surveillance may diminish our moral character even as it improves our moral behaviour. To illustrate, he uses the example of the progression of police enforcement of speed limits. Drivers who want to speed buy radar detectors, but police respond with cameras, and ultimately cars might be equipped by law with computers that automatically detect speed limits and make it impossible to exceed them. At this point the question of speeding simply exits the moral realm, since it becomes impossible apart from disabling your car’s anti-speeding computer (which Mr Westacott terms an act of "radical evil"). Are we then better or worse off, from a moral point of view?

Here is one way of thinking: surveillance edifies—that is, it builds moral character—by bringing duty and self-interest closer together. This outlook would probably be favoured by philosophers such as Plato and Thomas Hobbes. The reasoning is fairly simple: the better the surveillance, the more likely it is that moral transgressions will be detected and punished… But there is another perspective—the one informed by Kantian ethics. On this view, increased surveillance may carry certain utilitarian benefits, but the price we pay is a diminution of our moral character. Yes, we do the wrong thing less often; in that sense, surveillance might seem to make us better. But it also stunts our growth as moral individuals.

The rest of the essay is pretty interesting, but I want to point out that the way it’s phrased skirts an important issue right at the beginning. As anyone who’s ever been stopped at a speed trap knows, police don’t always intend speeding arrests to cause all traffic to obey the speed limit. Sometimes they enforce speed limits selectively in order to meet ticket quotas or make up shortfalls in the department’s annual budget. The big electronic signs that flash "YOU ARE SPEEDING"—that’s transparent surveillance. The intent is clearly to reduce speeding. But speed traps are secret surveillance. The intent of secret surveillance can be to induce the citizen to behave at all times as though he were under surveillance, since he never knows for sure. But it can also be to lull the citizen into a false sense of security in the hopes that he will break the rules and enable the police to enforce them. This may be done either in order to collect fines (or, in less fortunate societies, bribes), or in order to create an opportunity for the display of dominance by security forces, to assert their social position and back up demands for resources and authority.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 10:30 am

How to destroy a company

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Put out bad products, and then lie, lie, lie. Dell has done it and is still struggling to make its way back. (Full disclosure: I have a new Dell Studio XPS and it’s actually working pretty well.) Ashlee Vance reports in the NY Times:

After the math department at the University of Texas noticed some of its Dell computers failing, Dell examined the machines. The company came up with an unusual reason for the computers’ demise: the school had overtaxed the machines by making them perform difficult math calculations.

Dell, however, had actually sent the university, in Austin, desktop PCs riddled with faulty electrical components that were leaking chemicals and causing the malfunctions. Dell sold millions of these computers from 2003 to 2005 to major companies like Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo, institutions like the Mayo Clinic and small businesses.

“The funny thing was that every one of them went bad at the same time,” said Greg Barry, the president of PointSolve, a technology services company near Philadelphia that had bought dozens. “It’s unheard-of, but Dell didn’t seem to recognize this as a problem at the time.”

Documents recently unsealed in a three-year-old lawsuit against Dell show that the company’s employees were actually aware that the computers were likely to break. Still, the employees tried to play down the problem to customers and allowed customers to rely on trouble-prone machines, putting their businesses at risk. Even the firm defending Dell in the lawsuit was affected when Dell balked at fixing 1,000 suspect computers, according to e-mail messages revealed in the dispute.

The documents chronicling the failure of the PCs also help explain the decline of one of America’s most celebrated and admired companies. Perhaps more than any other company, Dell fought to lower the price of computers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2010 at 9:44 am

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